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Reviewed by:
  • Studies in Witchcraft, Magic, War and Peace in Africa: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
  • Peter Geschiere
Beatrice Nicolini , ed. Studies in Witchcraft, Magic, War and Peace in Africa: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Pp. 383.

The aim of this voluminous collection (twenty contributions) is "to develop further the multiple relationships between magical practices, witchcraft, and warfare in the African continent . . . both during colonial and postcolonial times" (p. xiii). The editor, Beatrice Nicolini, emphasizes in her introduction the many-sided character of the project, both with respect to the background of the various authors, the choice of topics, and the multiple methodologies followed. There are, indeed, signs that it proved difficult to keep the project in hand. The book is marred by editorial flaws. The reader [End Page 223] might, for instance, be taken aback that the title of the very first chapter, "Healing Practices among the Senegalese Community in Paris," by Dafne Accoroni, seems to have been maintained because of some confusion. The chapter is actually about the concept of baraqa (blessing) as developed by Cheick Amadou Bamba in his confrontation with French colonial rule. It offers interesting quotes from French colonial officers and from Bamba's own poetry, but it does not deal with the Senegalese community in Paris. In other chapters entire pages are included twice (for instance, p. 127, which returns in its entirety on p. 131–32 in the chapter by Maxwell Owusu and Godfrey N. Uzoigwe, on magic and warfare in colonial and postcolonialWest Africa). More serious is that several chapters do not even try to address the relation between "witchcraft" and "war/peace." For instance, in the second chapter Godwin Ehi Azenabor writes about witchcraft as a challenge to modern science without any link to war or peace. The next chapter, by Fernanda Claudio on Kanyemba, offers a very interesting analysis of how this warlord spread the violent prazo system from Mozambique into Zimbabwe without paying much attention to magical or occult aspects of his style of warfare. This problem in delimitation might be related to a lack of focus in the two introductory chapters. Professor Bernardo Bernardi, by now one of the very last active scholars to have attended the famous anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski's seminars in person, offers an elegant preface with due emphasis on the importance of anthropological fieldwork for understanding magic/witchcraft. But his rapid overview of the various contributions hardly attempts an in-depth exploration of the link with warfare or peace. Meanwhile, Nicolini's "Methodological Premise" wrestles with the distinction between magic, religion, and witchcraft, but leaves the question of how to link all this to warfare to the contributors.

The reader who is discouraged by this lack of analytical and editorial rigor, however, is in danger of missing little gems hidden in later parts of the book. Meshack Owino offers a very original analysis of the quite unorthodox ideas among askari (Kenyan soldiers in the colonial army) on proper funerals and the magical forces related to this. Alan Kirkaldy places the recent witch hunts in Vendaland (northern South Africa) in clarifying perspective by comparing them with early missionaries' stories about the way Venda chiefs used to deal with witchcraft affairs in the late nineteenth century. Nathalie Arnold gives a new dimension to the difficulties of the "Revolutionary Government" of Zanzibar in the 1960s in subduing the island of Pemba by focusing on the resistance of the island's uchawi. Paulo Granjo analyzes postwar cleansing rituals in present-day Mozambique. [End Page 224] While the English of this contribution is sometimes difficult to follow, the way he links these rituals to an ethnicization of the spirit world is fascinating. Sam Kasule succeeds in conveying the power of popular theater in Uganda, in its reflections on civil war, by analyzing the original ways in which trance is included in these performances.

Terence Ranger provides a powerful closure of more general purport with a strong plea for maintaining an unequivocal distinction between religion on one hand and magic/witchcraft on the other. He is rightly worried by the all-pervasiveness that the notion of witchcraft is acquiring, annexing the whole field of the...


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